What is next for me as a learner? Listening and loving, apparently.
Of all the ways I could approach this question, probably the most concrete is to share that I’m reading Unmistakable Impact, by Jim Knight. Though I’m just a few chapters in, the book reminds me that there is a great deal to learn in my unfamiliar role as an instructional coach. Specifically, I will learn about listening. Last year, in a more familiar role, I worked hard to make sure students had a voice daily, even going to the lengths of instituting a weekly “silent teacher day.” On these days I would respond to student questions non-verbally, whether it was a scribbled answer on an index card, a reply to a question on a discussion forum in Moodle, or a ridiculous pantomime that would test my 7th graders’ patience. I knew that those experiments made all of us think about the types of questions that we asked, and it also made us rethink the role of the teacher. With all the thinking and work I did related to teacher talk and student talk last year, I don’t know if I thought about listening as an instructional strategy. Now, working with teachers who are still learning my name, listening seems to be the best tool for the job at hand. Right now, as I wield this new tool, I’m a novice carpenter frequently frustrated by the round footprint of a hammer on a new two-by-four, wishing I could will the hammer head to land squarely on the nail. I’ll need to get better with this tool if I want to work effectively with teachers in stressful times.
Speaking of tools, more courses like this one are on the horizon for me as a learner. I’m captivated by the web’s potential to provide interactive learning opportunities for teachers. Courses like this inspire me in the way I was inspired by efforts of teachers teaching teachers in my summer institute with the Denver Writing Project. During my four week institute, some of the participants travelled each morning to Denver from cities as distant as Boulder and Colorado Springs to share their practice and engage in challenging intellectual work. I love the idea that learning opportunities for teachers are springing up online now when they are most needed, opportunities to connect and share in an effort to think critically about teaching and learning. I’m going to look for my next free online course where teachers are meeting to think, write and share.
What is always next for me as a learner is the learning I do in my own home, where I work as Daddy. Whether I’m reading with Hailey, who is in kindergarten and enjoying every show-and-tell and homework assignment, or if I’m talking with Madison, my two year old, who’s stubborn streak is as impressive as her expanding vocabulary and competence with language, every day gives me an opportunity to try my hand as a literacy teacher. As often as I work in schools with English language learners and their teachers, I find it instructive to watch and revel in the language and the emergent literacy development in my own house. In rocking chairs, snuggling with my girls and the books we love, I think often about a Mem Fox essay, “Like Mud, Not Fireworks,” where she explores the role of love in literacy development. So, we rock and read, and my mind drifts to teaching. When the girls are in bed, I can pick up Jim Knight’s book again, and he’s starting to sound a little like Mem Fox. He urges anyone interested in school change and collaborative relationships to think about love. He tells me that if I want to help teachers, I have to tap into my capacity for love. So, I guess listening and loving are next for me as a learner, apparently. It must be the holiday season.